Migraine isn’t just a headache. It’s a neurological condition that can become disabling. The impact on quality of life is clear. In some cases, migraine makes it difficult, if not impossible, to function on the job.

According to the Migraine Research Foundation, about 90 percent of people with migraine are unable to function normally during a migraine attack. It’s a condition that affects as many as 39 million people in the United States, the foundation estimates. About 4 million have chronic migraine, with 15 or more migraine days a month.

If you can’t work because of migraine, you might qualify for disability benefits. Let’s look at migraine disability benefits and what you need to know before you apply.

Yes, you can apply for disability. The fact is, migraine is the sixth most common cause of disability in the world.

In the United States, you may have the option of short- or long-term disability.

Short-term disability

If you or your employer has been paying into a short-term disability policy, you may qualify for benefits. Check your policy or speak with your human resources manager to learn more.

With short-term disability, benefits may only last a few months.

Long-term disability

If you have a long-term disability policy on your own or through work, check the policy details to find out what to do next.

If you don’t have a policy of your own or through your employer, you can apply through the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), you’re unlikely to receive benefits for occasional migraine attacks. But you may be approved if you:

  • have chronic migraine that’s expected to last at least a year
  • can’t perform your usual work
  • can’t adjust to another type of work
  • have worked enough hours and paid Social Security taxes

If you think you qualify for SSDI, start working on it now, because the process will take a minimum of several months. It’s all about documentation — and plenty of it.

Get your medical records

Avoid delays by gathering your medical records and other evidence now. You’ll need:

  • contact information and patient ID numbers of all healthcare providers, hospitals, and clinics where you were seen for migraine diagnosis or treatment
  • test results and treatments, including who ordered them
  • a list of medications, who prescribed them, and why

You know that your chronic migraine is disabling. Your doctor may agree and even put it in writing. But that’s simply not enough for SSDI.

Get as much documentation as you can from your neurologist or headache specialist. Include information about all symptoms you experience before, during, and after a migraine attack, as well as any side effects from medications.

List your work history

Your work history will show whether you have enough credits. In 2020, you get 1 credit for each $1,410 in earnings. You can earn up to 4 credits a year.

In most cases, you need 40 credits, including 20 within the 10 years before your disability made it hard for you to work. This may be adjusted for age.

Be ready to provide information about education and job training. For a complete list of what you’ll need, download the SSA’s application checklist.

Fill out an application

You can mail an application or bring it to your local SSA office. Better yet, save time and start the process online.

Be prepared to share information within the application, such as:

  • alternate contact
  • names and birthdays of minor children and spouse
  • dates of marriages and divorces
  • medical release form SSA-827
  • medical and job worksheet form SSA-3381
  • bank account information for direct deposit

The SSA will contact you if they need anything else. You may have to participate in a phone or in-person interview.

In the meantime, you can log in and check your application status anytime. Your application will be confirmed by email or mail.

Your application won’t be considered if you don’t have enough work history. And, if you’re still working, that’s definitely going to affect your case.

To qualify for disability benefits, the SSA must be convinced that:

  • your migraine is severe enough to prevent you from doing your job
  • you can’t do other work based on your age, education, and skills

For the SSA to consider migraine a disability, it must be diagnosed by an acceptable medical source who:

  • shows they performed a physical exam, reviewed your medical history, and excluded other possible diagnoses
  • provides a detailed description of a typical migraine attack and all accompanying symptoms
  • provides evidence of response to treatment and that migraine attacks persist

A certain amount of patience is required at this point. It can take 3 to 5 months, or even longer, for a decision to be made.

You have 60 days from the date you receive a denial to appeal. You can file a disability appeal online. Before you do that, pay close attention to the reasons for denial so you can further support your case.

There are four levels of appeal:

  1. Reconsideration. Someone else will review your application and any new documents that are submitted.
  2. Hearing. You can request a hearing in front of an administrative law judge. They may ask for more documentation. You can bring doctors or other expert witnesses to the hearing.
  3. Appeals council. The appeals council can deny your request if they agree with the hearing decision. They can also decide your case or return it to an administrative law judge.
  4. Federal court. You can file a lawsuit in a federal district court.

You’re free to handle all this yourself, have someone else help you, or hire a lawyer.

If you’re still trying to work, it may help to have a conversation with your employer. You can ask for reasonable accommodations for migraine, but make sure to prepare for this meeting.

Remember, not everyone understands migraine and how it can affect your ability to function.

Clearly and briefly explain your symptoms, how long they last, and how they affect your performance. List work-related migraine triggers and things that tend to exacerbate an attack.

Bring potential solutions to the table. You may be able to agree on things such as:

  • alternate lighting
  • noise reduction
  • eliminating strong odors
  • making your workstation more comfortable
  • a flexible work schedule
  • a lighter workload when needed
  • the ability to work from home when necessary

A few accommodations may help you function better, which is to your employer’s benefit as well. It probably won’t hurt to point that out.

If you’re unable to work due to chronic migraine, you can apply for disability benefits. You need to have enough work credits and evidence that you can’t work anymore due to your migraine symptoms.

Migraine disability may be difficult to prove, but it can be done. You can make your case with the help of your doctor and lots of detailed documentation.